Monday, September 24, 2007

Day 50 - Please don't let us die at Lake Mead, alone.

The picture tells you all you need to know.

The most important additional information is that after a long day of driving and racing to get to the Hoover Dam in time for the last tour (yes, I'm that much of a nerd) Megan and I were beat. So we were pleased to be giving our money to the National Park Service--or, at least, their concessionaire--at the very nearby Lake Mead National Recreation Area lakeside lodge. We pulled in at sundown, just in time to catch the last rays of sun over the shrinking lake. The lodges were a series of 1940s-era single-story motor-lodge buildings. There were maybe a dozen of these scattered around the lakeside, each with four single rooms.

The place seemed deserted. There wasn't a single car in the place except for one maintenance van outside the lodge office. The office itself was closed. A scotch-taped piece of paper said to ring the bell. But before we could, Tom suddenly appeared from around the corner. Chuckling. To himself. His company nametag was prominently displayed.

"Got to ring the bell. Heh, heh, heh, heh. You ring that bell, now! Heh, heh, heh, heh. Someone's there, alright. Heh, heh, heh, heh." And with that, he began systematically trying the knobs of locked doors down the row just to our left.

Megan rang the bell.

An opaque Prohibition-era window slid open and a revealed the face and not much more of a kindly silver-haired woman who briskly but not unpleasantly asked us the necessary questions to give us a room and charge a credit card. According to her nametag, she was Tomina. Tom and Tomina. Hmm .

Tom shuffled a little closer and said "Evening Tomina! Heh, heh."

"Evening, Tom," she called back from window.

Tom seemed to be around 40 with thinning hair beneath a company ballcap and a bushy beard beneath. T-shirt revealing a bit of a paunch that jiggled as he continuously chuckled mostly to himself and walked around with a halting gait. He was a charmed fellow, having some clinical issue with which he grappled. But why he was trying all the doors was a bit of a mystery.

"Looks like we have a few guests tonight, hmmm, Tomina?" he asked. "Heh, heh, heh."

I shit you not.

"Yes, Tom, we sure do." She answered him not in any complicit, creepy way. Rather, it was as though she was used to his oddness and learned how to engage him minimally enough to avoid getting into a conversation.

Or minimally enough not to be hacked to pieces when she stepped out back for a smoke.

Tom tried some more doors and went back around the corner.

"Now here's your key," Tomina said to us, finally, struggling to get a plump arm through the window without blocking her face. "Now don't leave it in the room if you go outside because the door locks behind you automatically. And after 10pm I'm gone and the office is closed for the night. Security is here after that, of course." And with that she pointed her chin past us to Tom who was walking back toward his van. "But he doesn't have keys to the rooms." She seemed to offer this last bit as reassurance rather than as a scold.

Tom called from his cab window, "You folks have a good evening. Heh, heh, heh, heh."

Now, it's important to point out that I'm writing this with the benefit of retrospect, but I'm not embellishing anything. That said, this all happened so quickly that, while we found him odd and, well, touched, I don't think Megan nor I thought much about the whole encounter. In fact, we were probably more frustrated that we were being charged $90 for the room.

But as we were driving from the office, aaalllll the way to the last room in the last building at the edge of the lodge property--in the dark--a certain sense of apprehension began to build.

We parked and unloaded the car. The room, on the corner of the building, had hand-crank windows with leaded glass panes on two sides. They were set into brick walls that had barely a coat of paint on them. There was a bed and and TV and a little table and lamp. No dresser. And no phone.

We walked around the 10-foot square box opening the windows to let in some of the beautiful evening lake air. We cracked open a couple of beers and, when we realized they were pretty warm, I headed back to the office to get some ice. I took the car to make it quicker. Suddenly, the fact that we were literally the only folks in the place, aside from Tomina and our guardian angel, Tom, began to weigh on me. More to the point, my imagination began to churn through a series of plausibly gruesome possibilities.

I wince now at the lack of creativity, but one involved Tom breaking into our room at about 3am (a time, incidentally, just late enough to lull edgy, alert city folks into a sense of their own ridiculousness and allow them to drift off to sleep for a few hours) and hacking us to bits.

But the one that took strongest root in my psyche was the thought that Tom was, in fact, relatively harmless in his compromised mental state. Despite that, I began to convince myself that he had several friends back in his neighborhood who would routinely pay Tom off with cigarettes and JuJu Fruits so that they could maraud around the grounds after Tomina left for the night. And what if, on this one night, they were sufficiently ennobled on meth to realize that of all the things on their lives' to do lists they hadn't yet crossed off "Killin Humens". Heh, heh, heh, heh. Maybe they always wanted to see how far someone could run after having a few knives thrust through their their...


Ridiculous, utterly ridiculous, I reassured myself as I pulled back up in front of our room with a bucket of ice. If such goons existed, surely they would have plied their boredom and penchant for evisceration on some other unsuspecting uptight saps before us. That said, I backed the car into the parking space for a quicker getaway. Just in case.

I walked back into the room and immediately posted myself at the table by the windows, watching out through the blinds into the darkness. Megan asked what was wrong. I was embarrassed to say what I was thinking. More to the point, I was scared of what I was thinking. "You worried about Tom?" she asked me.

"No," I said curtly. I was worried about his friends.

I didn't keep the charade up for long. Within a few minutes, we were both cranking the windows closed on the comfortable 60 degree evening and turning the air conditioner on.

After a few minutes more, we killed the lights so it would be easier to see out than to see in. I punched out 9-1-1 on my cell phone and had it ready to hit SEND on the nightstand. Atop Gideon's bible. I crawled into bed with the car keys which, I thought I was clever for remembering, had a panic button for the car alarm. What the fuck I thought that was going to do, I'm not sure. Maybe the striped bass would come flailing up the shore from the lake, in the dark, cross the road and the parking lot and save us from whoever was trying our door.

After awhile I didn't even feel comfortable with the TV on since it was keeping me from seeing if headlights were approaching the front window. This was sick stuff.

Megan tried reason. "Are you really more freaked out about staying here than out in the open in Death Valley? With coyotes?" I appreciated her a approach, but YOU BETTER FUCKING BELIEVE I WAS.

I responded in kind, with analysis. The only reason I was unnerved, I explained, was because we had empirical evidence of a strange-acting fellow whose putative job it was to walk around yanking on doors that were supposed to be locked. And that's when I flipped out a bit. The lock had not been changed on our door since this place opened in the 40s, I was sure. If Tom yanked too hard, I'm not sure it wouldn't give. So I crawled out of bed for what turned the culmination of the stupidity that was unraveling our perfectly nice day into an evening of intense anxiety and ruefulness at deciding to stay at such a desolate place with a fellow named, heh heh heh, Tom.

I took the old captain's chair from beside the table and wedged it beneath an edge in the door as I double-checked the lock. I don't know why--especially since I knew that that splintering, termite infested door was likely to crumble to sawdust if anyone gave it even a moderately forceful shoulder. But, somehow, having the chair wedged behind the door gave us a sense of security that was as irrational as the fantastically fiendish stories we had made up in the first place.

And with that, inexplicably, we both fell asleep for several hours until sunrise (below), albeit with the key ring around my finger and the phone under my pillow. Here's the sunrise we awoke to:


mfs said...

There's something about that area. I was traveling out of Death Valley towards San Francisco when my friend and I decided to stop at what was marked as a ghost town on our map north of Trona, CA (our previous attempt to find a ghost town having been foiled by an arson the year before). We ended up at the encampment of a grisseled dude (and his family) who talked like the main character of Sling Blade. We made it out of there pretty quickly.

Adrienne said...

We city folk do have a habit of thinking our country cousins are inbred, mentally defective murderers anyway, so when we find someone who kind of fits the profile and we don't have people within 6 inches of us (which also freaks us out) hysteria is definitely expected and allowed. I would have thought you irrational if you HADN'T done those things.